Arts and Culture

Why the Highland Vs. Northside Debate Is All About Gentrification

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I should start by saying I do not hate transplants. Our city -- like any other -- is made up of people from all over the world. Many of my close friends didn't grow up here, but found their way to Denver because of all of the great stuff we have. Before this recent boom in population (and rent hikes that seem unstoppable), many people I knew moved here because it was a relatively inexpensive city that still offered a lot in the way of music, art and culture.

But now that city is evaporating. The Denver that allowed artists to move here and sustain themselves on a minimum-wage job while devoting the rest of their time to art and music no longer exists. In the last few weeks I've run into multiple friends who were, up until this year, sharing houses in the city with other artists because it was affordable. Their landlords have now raised their rent by hundreds of dollars, forcing them to find somewhere else to go. When art and artists leave your city, it is not a good sign.

But another part of the situation Denver is facing as it grows is what happens when we discuss what the name of a neighborhood means -- like Highland. Sure, the name (and its many subdivisions of Potter-Highland, West Highland, etc.) has historical context. That's not what is up for debate. The debate here is around when new money and new folks move into a neighborhood that already exists and decide to rename it. Again, yes, Highland is not a "new" name, because it is what the area was called when it first began -- but after years of white flight out and Italian and Latino migration in, it became the Northside. David Conde at La Voz explains it best.

That's not to say that using the term or name Highland is wrong; I have friends who have been living in the neighborhood for fifteen-plus years, and they call it Highland, too. But it is when we discount the conversation to merely a name preference that it gets messy. Why? Because the current development happening on the Northside looks and feels like gentrification. And with that gentrification has come the rise in the use of the name Highland.

Growth is good for a city, there's no doubt. Denver is experiencing visible growth in storefronts that have long been abandoned now being opened back up for business. It is seeing progress through the building of structures on lots that once sat as empty parking lots. Denver is seeing old, empty buildings reborn as new miniature city centers. There is good happening all around. But there is also bad.

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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies